The Good Samaritan – The Psychology of Time

The name is taken from an old biblical parable about a man who had been robbed beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Passed twice, first by a priest then by a Levite, things were not looking good. Luckily, when a Samaritan came down the road, the traveler was seized with passion and stopped. Not only did the Samaritan dress the man’s wounds, but he also brought him to an Inn and paid the caretaker to watch after him until he was restored to full health. You can find a lot more on this parable on Wikipedia.

The Experiment

In a study performed by Darley and Batson in 1973, the experimenters attempted to see if priming an individual, by keeping the ideas of helping salient in their minds, had any impact on whether or not they would exhibit helping behavior.

Students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were asked to partake in this study. Participants arrive at the psych building with a speech prepared; half were instructed to write their speech on The Good Samaritan (hopefully to get the ideas of helping into their heads) while the other half were told to give a speech on job opportunities.

The variable of time was also introduced into the study. After arriving at the psych building, all students were told that the speech would be given in a different building. Some students were reassured that they had plenty of time, others were told they were right on time but should leave promptly. The last group was told that they were late, and that their audience was waiting for them!

While on their way to the other building, every student passed a confederate who was acting sick (hunched over, coughing and groaning), quite literally simulating the parable half of them were giving a speech on. The main focus of this study was to see who would stop and help.

Personally, as seminary students, I think they should have all stopped and helped, unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. One would venture to guess that those who had the story of The Good Samaritan fresh in their heads would stop and help more often, you would be wrong. Some students who were on their way to giving a speech on the famous parable even stepped over the “sick man” while hurrying to give their presentations!

Time turned out to be the key variable in this study, those who believed that they had time were more likely to stop and help no matter what speech they were giving. In fact, participants who were told that they had plenty of time were six times more likely to help than those who thought they were late.

So What?

You don’t need me to tell you people these day are, or at least feel, pretty damn busy… all the time. I actually just finished a really good book on time, coincidentally by Zimbardo, called The Time Paradox. I suggest taking their quiz and getting your “time profile”, it’s fun.

Long story short, we all need to take pains to slow down a little, or at the very least, not to rush. It’s a fact that busier people are happier, I know I’m happiest when I have plenty to do. But we need to all be careful not to put too much on our plates. Just as seen above, as soon as we start rushing from point A to point B we start to miss things. Who knows how many people we’ve metaphorically stepped over while rushing from one important thing to another.

I encourage comments =)


Darley, J.M. & Batson, C. D. (1973). From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and  dis positional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.


About thepsychconvert

I have a few passions and a hundred hobbies. I often wish there was more time in the day.
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2 Responses to The Good Samaritan – The Psychology of Time

  1. SweetB says:

    Will it be repeatitive of me to say that this is a great stuff? I know that I often am too busy to stop and pay attention to what is going on around me. Or, I am too busy playing on my Droid. Thanks for reminding me that I need to slow down.

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